Thursday, August 11, 2011

Camondo, Paris

The Entrance Court of the Nissim De Camondo Museum, Paris.
The Devoted Classicist is sometimes asked to recommend a "secret" place in Paris that can be visited.  As an instructor for a course at Parsons Paris that I developed where all the class sessions were held at historic sites, I took my students to a number of locations not regularly open to the public.  But one of the most rewarding venues requires no special permission, and yet it is not frequently visited by tourists.  The Nissim De Camondo Museum, part of the Musees Et Monuments De France, is an extraordinary destination for all those interested in the decorative arts.
The original construction drawing for the garden facade.

When Count Moise de Camondo inherited the Napoleon III style family home at 63 rue de Monceau in 1910, he razed it and spent the next three years working with architect Rene Sergent to create a residence as a suitable setting for his collection of mostly Louis XVI period furnishings.  The purchase of period boiserie in 1911 determined the height of the windows, and certain pieces of furniture and tapestries warranted special architectural detailing to accommodate them.  While some of the decorative door and window hardware was collected as antique, reproductions were made as needed.  The staircase balustrade was executed in partly gilt wrought-iron by the Bagues firm after the original at the Hotel Dassin in Toulouse.
The prinicpal floor plans of the Nissim De Camondo Museum, Paris.
As currently interpreted, it is not a house museum in the usual sense.  Originally, reproductions were some times employed until the desired antique was acquired.  When the museum was opened, any contemporary pieces added for utility and/or comfort were removed, and the contents are displayed for viewing rather than to reflect a residential arrangement.  So it takes a little imagination to see it as someone's home, and these images show some of the furnishings relocated for a better camera angle.  But it is a remarkable museum experience, none-the-less, and a great treat to visit as it is almost deserted on a typical summer weekday when other museums like the Louvre are packed.

The main staircase, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
Some highlights of the collection will be presented in the next post, but here is a survey of the principal rooms.

The Grand Bureau, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
The provenance of the oak boiserie of the Grand Bureau is not known.  The Aubusson tapestries depict the "Fables of La Fontaine" after Jean-Baptiste Oudry.

The Grand Salon, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
The white and gilt boiserie in the Grand Salon or Salon Dore comes from a townhouse at 11 rue Royale.  The seating suite by Jacob is upholstered with Aubusson tapestries.
The Salon Huet, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
The Salon Huet is named after the famous series of paintings by Jean-Baptiste Huet depicting an arcadian romance.  The white marble chimneypiece come from the Hotel Jean-Joseph de Laborde, rue Lafitte, Paris.

The Dining Room, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
The boiserie of the Dining Room in green rechampi (meaning glazed in various tones) is partly 18th century.

The Petit Salon, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
 The walls of the Petit Bureau are upholstered in a cerise stripe-on-stripe fabric, a replacement of the original in the late 1980s restoration.

The Bedroom of the son Nissim, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
The bedroom of the son Nissim de Camondo features a portrait of his grandfather of the same name and a steel and gilt bronze bed, circa 1790-1795.

The Bedroom of Moise, the Count de Camondo.

The view of the Count's bedroom shows a circa 1775 chest by Mathieu-Guillaume Cramer and a circa 1780 armchair a la reine by Georges Jacob.
The Library, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
The Library of oak boiserie looks down on a private garden adjacent to the house and Parc Monceau beyond.
The Salon Bleu, the Nissim De Camondo Museum.
The Salon Bleu was formerly daughter Beatrice's bedroom.  The color of the silk on the walls is called "the queen's hair".
Sister and brother, Beatrice and Nissim de Camondo, 1916.
Both Moise de Camondo and his wife Irene Cahen d'Anvers were from prominent Jewish banking families.  When they divorced in 1901, the Count was granted custody of their two children, Nissim, born in 1892, and Beatrice, born two years later.  Nissim was a fighter pilot in World War I and was killed in action in 1917.  The death meant the end of the Camondo name.  Perhaps influenced by his cousin Isaac's bequest of his collection to the Louvre which was dispersed among three other museums, Moise's will left the house and the furnishings to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, to be kept together as a collection bearing the name of his son Nissim de Camondo.  The museum opened in 1936 after the Count's death in 1935.  Beatrice, who had married composer Leon Reinach in 1918 and had two children, inherited a large fortune on her father's death.  But she and her familiy were forcibly taken from their home during the German occupation of Paris, and were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944.

All the color photos and the floor plans shown come from the 1991 book The Nissim De Camondo Museum published by the Musees et Monuments de France and sold in the museum bookstore as a guide to the collection. Both English and French versions of the book can be purchased here.


  1. What a wonderful tour and recommendation, thanks for posting! Added to my list of places to visit next time I am in Paris.

  2. I have never even heard of this museum! But it is at the top of my list of places to see next time I go to Paris! I have really enjoyed browsing through all your selections in The Devoted Classicist Library, and I have ordered the book so I can read up on it in advance of my visit.

  3. W.H., I think the French might have a little trouble with the 20th century interpretation of 18th century architecture, but that aspect was interesting to me.

    C.A.W., much of The Devoted Classicist Library needs more work, but I am glad you found it interesting. The site will get better as time goes on.

  4. Thank you, John. Very interesting post. I had read about the museum before, and the history of the family, in an issue of WoI - very possibly the year the book was published. The house will be on our to visit list next time we're in Paris. Again, very interesting.

  5. Blue, the family history is interesting, how the title came to be granted, etc. You will really enjoy seeing the house and the collection.

  6. How fascinating and as a decorative art fanatic, next time we are in Paris I am going to have to visit!

  7. Now that's what I call a real parisian house!! Or is it a petit palais? Beautiful staircase.

  8. Thanks DC. I have to focus on the mundane stuff the first time though to keep me from hyperventilating. So, I noticed how the picture were literally "hung." What is the practice for hanging pictures on walls like these? Always "picture molding?" What sort of cord or wire?

  9. Good to know for the next visit.

  10. Such a wonderful facade---and museum. Haven't been in forever.

  11. Thank you for this post! I am sending you an email with more questions about Paris.

  12. Terry, my fraternal grandparents' modest house at the edge of a small town underwent a redecoration around this same time and the bigger pictures and mirrors were hung from cords, too, very much as shown here. It was a widespread trend. For the rooms with walls upholstered with fabric, it makes a lot of sense to hang from a picture rail. The panelled rooms at Camondo have a special painted finish, so that is probably the reason there, although there would no longer be rearranging to accommodate a new acquisition. Note the use of the spikes with a decorative head; I sometimes use these today. And also note the placement on top of mirrors; the clocks do not hang from cords, but framed pictures do. The straps in Nissim's bedroom are more unusual and seldom seen in practice these days. Some may remember a 1980s revival of the 18th century practice that used a flourish of ribbon for hanging pictures.

  13. David, Chip, Columnist, Dilettante, and Helen,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment as well.

  14. One of my most favorite of museums in Paris, hardly a soul was around during my two visits and you could JUST BREATH and IMAGINE life and times in the house. A lovely reminder...thank you.

  15. A great example of what money and good taste can do together.


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